Cars these days are better than ever at protecting their occupants in the event of a crash. You’ll find specially designed crumple zones, deformable dashboards, airbags and super-strength pillars as well as the traditional seatbelt to maximise safety and reduce injuries.
While manufacturers have poured millions of pounds into developing state-of-the-art safety kit for our cars, there are a number of simple steps we can take to reduce the risk of injury, and that of our passengers.
Of all the modern gadgets now available in new cars, the seatbelt is still the single most important safety device. The wearing of seatbelts by adults in the front of cars became compulsory in 1983, instantly saving thousands of lives. Eight years later, in 1991, a law was passed also making the wearing of seatbelts in the rear compulsory for adults. Research revealed car drivers are five times more likely to die in an accident if their rear seat passengers are unrestrained, not to mention the likelihood of injury to the passengers themselves.
Since the introduction of the laws, seatbelts have proved are very effective in reducing deaths and injury rates during collisions. They work by spreading the force of the impact over a larger amount of time and area, thereby reducing the effects of the impact on the body.
However there is still a risk of injury if a seatbelt is worn, although not as great as those sustained if unrestrained.
However, the injuries caused by a seatbelt are most common in those who do not adjust their seatbelt properly. Always ensure that your belt is worn correctly and help passengers to adjust theirs. The lap part of the belt should fit across the hipbones, and not the soft abdominal area, while the diagonal section should fit over the shoulder (not along the neck) and between the breasts.
Children and seat belts
It is the responsibility of the driver to ensure that (s)he and any passengers under 14 years old wear their seatbelts. Passengers over 14 years of age are responsible for themselves.
Child safety – the details
In September 2006 the law covering the carriage of children in cars changed in order to better protect these most vulnerable passengers.
All children must now use an appropriate child restraint or adult seat belt (depending on their age, weight and height) and it is the driver’s responsibility to ensure anyone under the age of 14 years is correctly restrained.
Summary of the law regarding private cars:
Babies and children under three-years-old must use an appropriate child restraint (eg rear-facing infant carrier, forward-facing child seat) at all times. It is illegal to place a baby in a rear-facing child seat on a front passenger seat that is protected by an active airbag.
Children aged three and above, until they reach either their 12th birthday or 135cm in height must use an appropriate child restraint (eg forward-facing child seat, high back booster or booster cushion).
No seat belts available: If your car is a vintage or classic model and has no seat belts, children under 12-years-old or 135cm in height are not allowed to travel in it.
When buying a child seat for the car, make sure you get the correct seat for your child’s weight and ensure that it fits properly in your make and model of car. Around 70 per cent of child seats are not fitted correctly so make sure you follow the instructions carefully and check the seat before every trip. To banish fitting variations altogether opt for an ISOFIX seat, which locks directly into your car’s body with no need to use the adult seat belt to secure it in place (see FAQs). This system makes it almost impossible to fit a seat incorrectly, maximising the child’s protection.
Q: I’m seven months pregnant. Should I have to wear a seat belt?
A: Pregnancy does not provide exemption from the law and all pregnant women must wear seat belts when travelling in cars. This applies to both front and back seats. However, it is best not to wear lap-only belts, as opposed to three-point belts, as they have been shown to cause injury to unborn babies in the event of a collision. The safest way for pregnant women to wear a three-point, lap and diagonal seat belt is to :
Place the diagonal strap between the breasts (over the breastbone) with the strap resting over the shoulder, not the neck
Place the lap belt flat on the thighs, fitting comfortably beneath the enlarged abdomen, and over the pelvis not the bump
The belt should be worn as tight as possible, enabling the frame of the body and not the bump to take the force of any impact
Q: Is my six-year-old daughter permitted to ride in the front of the car?
A: The law does not prevent children of any age riding in the front passenger seat of a car, unless of course, they are in a rear-facing child seat and the car has a front passenger airbag. However, the safest place for any child is in the rear of the car.
Children under 12-years-old or shorter than 135cm in height, must use an appropriate child restraint, whether they are in the front or the rear of the car. In your daughter’s case this would be either a high back booster seat or a booster cushion, depending on her size.
Q: Can you explain ISOFIX car seat fitting?
A: The ISOFIX system simply means that instead of using the adult seat belt to secure the seat in place, you use the car’s integral mounting points. Most new cars now have two sets of mounting points located on the rear seats. These enable an ISOFIX child seat to be attached to the car’s frame with a simple click. Latches on the back of the child seat lock into the mounting points providing a secure fit every time. ISOFIX was introduced in an attempt to standardise child seat fittings and so reduce the number of seats that are incorrectly, and often dangerously, fitted.
Q: What checks can I make to ensure that a second-hand child seat is safe?
A: Our advice would be to avoid second-hand child seats altogether. If the seat has been involved in an accident there could be invisible damage that could prevent it working properly, and wear and tear could mean a worn harness, weak anchor points or reduced impact absorption. It is possible to test a seat to ensure it is safe but this would be very expensive – it would be cheaper to buy a new one. It is also worth investing in a newer model as child seat design is constantly evolving to offer maximum protection.
The information on this Site is provided on the understanding that GEM Motoring Assist is not rendering legal or other advice. You should consult your own personal advisors as to legal or other advice relevant to any action you wish to take in connection with this website.